As she stood around the fire, her fists readied and her eyes scanning for the next source of danger, Mandan’s voice snapped her out of her focused state and suddenly she realised that he was right. Kulos added her own thoughts, telling her to take point and to let Kulos bring up the rear. As Donna moved forward, however, the front of the lodge exploded. Two bursts of water smashed into planks of wood and they splintered, thrown back by the force of the water blasts that Donna had let out. As another plank flew directly at the girl, she planted a kick firmly in the centre of the plank, water shrouding her foot to strengthen it. The plank snapped in half, both sides clattering to the floor behind Donna on either side. Suddenly, two more black shadows were in the building and as the first one rushed for Donna, Dianne acted faster and moved forward, her khopesh flowing through the air to slice the front of the shadow in half. The being writhed in agony and retreated. The second tendril shot straight for Mandan and Sera, screaming loudly. As it was about to hit the pair, however, a bright light emanated from Mandan’s arm and for a moment his whole body seemed to be surrounded by a glowing aura. The shadowy creature slammed into Mandan but rather than any physical contact, it simply vanished straight into his chest and disappeared. Mandan was left with a feeling of strength as his body tingled like it had when his arm had previously fired. As the shadowy tendrils were suddenly left at a surprise, Donna took advantage of their hesitation and shouted to the group. “Come on!” Leading the charge, she ran out of the front of the building, coming to a stop on the desert sands. In front of them stood Arthur, his skin red and cracked. Either side of him he was surrounded by blacked out cages. Though the others could only hear the wind, Sera could also hear murmurs, whispers. Promises of powers unimaginable and strength unmatchable if you simply submitted, welcomed yourself into the embrace of the spirits.
As the group arrived outside the building, forming a line opposite Arthur, he spread his arms. “Welcome, my old friends! Now, Mandan! I didn’t expect you’d be the hero of legend! This is most… certainly…. a surprise! Such a shame, you would have made a wonderful addition to our forces. Still, there’s hope for the rest of you yet.” Before the rest of the group had a chance to react, shadows dropped from the sky, landing on the heads of Mandan’s comrade, enveloping their heads entirely as they dropped to the desert floor, motionless save for the slight rise and fall of their chests. “I wouldn’t advise trying to help them Mandan… Interrupting the bonding process can have rather… fatal side effects.” Cackling to himself, Arthur stepped forward, a pair of bowie knives appearing in his hands. “Either way, you’re going to be too busy for that. The spirits demand your death, oh mighty hero and I will comply.” Arthur set off into an immediate run, giving Mandan little time to respond. Closing the gap between the pair of them in a few seconds, Arthur leapt into the air, slashing one of his two bowie knives straight at the other boy’s head.
She was alone. The world around her was dark, cold. No matter which way she walked, the world seemed empty, bleak. She stood on nothing but yet was not falling. After several minutes, hours, days or weeks of wandering, the time blending hours and years into single moments, she saw nothing. Felt nothing on her skin. Even the wind seemed not to exist. After a second or an eternity, a voice called out to her. “Kulos! Kulos!” It was Donna. The tone was instantly recognisable as the other girl’s but the sound was different, warped. It was Donna, afraid, and alone. “Where were you Kulos?!” No matter which way Kulos looked, the void continued. And yet the voice of Donna sounded as if it was right next to her, within her ear. “I needed you Kulos! I loved you Kulos! Why?!” Suddenly, flashes in her mind. Donna, sprawled out of the dirt. Crimson seeping from her chest. The butterfly sword plunged through her heart. Kulos staring at her blood stained hands. “I thought you loved me Kulos.” The voice was calm, almost childlike. “Then why did you kill me.” The tone was neutral, as if Donna were simply reading from a history textbook. Suddenly the voice changed, warped. No longer Donna, it hissed in her ear. A thousand voices simultaneously, inside her skull. “You aren’t strong enough Kulos. You were never strong enough. Too weak willed, your destiny is to kill the one you love most. Give in Kulos. Accept the despair. You’ll never be able to save her. No matter how hard you try.”
The courtyard. Back at the academy. She could see. The grass was green and the flowers were in season. The grounds were silent, empty. But it was a good empty. A calm, contented quietness had settled over the campus like on a summer evening, when students would gather round the campfires and listen to heroic tales or laugh about the day’s events. Suddenly, however, her reverie was interrupted. A stone stung her shoulder and as she spun to see who had thrown it, another one hit her in the back. Before she knew it, she was being pelted with stones, driven to her knees under an endless barrage that marked her skin and sent drops of crimson blood down her face as the stones pelted all of her. In a moment she was surrounded by girls. Leona, Samantha, Juliana and all of their cronies. They laughed and chanted, the words warping and twisting as they continued to pelt the girl with stones.
Samantha stepped forward and grabbed Sera’s hair, forcing her to the ground. “Lick it slave!” Her face was smashed against the dirt and she could feel the crunch of her nose and the dirt smearing onto her cheeks, her face burning with the pain. A foot stamped on her right calf, the leather heel of the boot digging in until it reached bone. As it was released, her calf screamed in agony. A tormentor smashed a boot into her side and her ribs shot with agony as she was flipped onto her back. Another girl grabbed the skin on her chest, pinching and twisting it to cause maximum agony. Unable to transform, Sera was left to face the beating. Her eyes were forced open, held open and she watched as the daggers came down and the world turned black once more. Unable to see, the blows melded together, the girls started chanting about how useless Sera was, about how she couldn’t even see or use her weapons, how she was going to amount to nothing and just die being a failure, letting Mandan and everyone else down. Suddenly, the world seemed to pause around her and the stinging pain subsided to be replaced by an ache. The girls were gone and Sera was left on her hands and knees, the world having vanished around her. In front of her lay a crystal, shining red. A voice hissed in her ear, a multitude and yet a single sound, as if it were inside her skull. “You’re so weak Sera. You’re never going to amount to anything Sera. But we can make you strong. Reach out and pick up the crystal. Accept us into you Sera. Unless you want this.” Images flashed through her mind. Donna, an arrow through her throat, gasping for breath as she gargled blood. Seamus, his own shillelagh sticking through his upper body, a surprised look on his face. Sam’s body, headless, on its knees as blood flowed from the stump of his neck. Amelia, her chest littered with arrows as she stumbled forwards, blood seeping from her wounds, a look of desperation across her face. The show in her mind came to rest on a final image. Mandan, impaled on a wall by a spear, blood seeping from his chest. His veil had been removed and his skin was charred, burnt beyond recognition. “Accept us Sera. Save your friends Sera. Or let them die.”